The “Trump Effect” on African policies

  • February 14, 2017

When Donald Trump gave his first official foreign policy speech in Washington DC in April 2016, he almost forgot to lay out any policy vision for Africa; a sharp contrast from George Washington Bush and Barack Obama, who both as candidates as well as presidents spoke extensively about engaging Africa economically, politically and for social as well as security purposes.

In another election campaign rally, he went on to the extent of saying that he would like to build a wall on the Atlantic shore and threatened to make Africans leave the United States of America. Owing to his divisive comments, not many expected or wanted Trump, a man with so much disregard for women, Mexicans, Africans, Muslims and other “outsiders” to win the presidency race, not even in an alternate universe. However, he eventually emerged as the “winner” when the election results were declared in November 2016. And a wave of shock and uncertainty splashed the economies all over the African continent, and the world. As he made his official entry in the Oval office on January 20, 2017, he mentioned in his inaugural speech how outsourcing of US jobs has led to unemployment and how the American administration had overlooked their own citizens and spent trillions of dollars to defend the borders and economies of other nations. Hence, it becomes crucial to deliberate what the 45th President of the United States of America will have in store for Africa.

Trajectory of humanitarian aid

Under the administration of George W Bush, the US foreign policy for Africa was primarily focussed on providing humanitarian assistance. The success of those programs won him praises from all over the world, especially for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR. Launched in 2003, the program was America’s pledge towards fighting the global AIDS epidemic. Since the day of its launch, PEPFAR has committed more than $70 billion in funding to fighting HIV/ AIDS, as well as tuberculosis and malaria. The program, which was significantly strengthened by Barack Obama, has provided life-saving antiretroviral drugs for 11.5 million people. However, in a series of questions submitted by the Trump transition team to the US State Department, the team has queried “If PEPFAR is worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”

Further questioning the success of such humanitarian assistance, the Trump team added, “With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?” This stance has raised doubts over the turn that foreign aid will take under the Trump administration.

Overseas business under Obama and Trump

Africa was a priority in the US foreign policies for Barack Obama which was ascertained when he visited Ghana in July 2009. It was the earliest visit made by a US President to the continent after being elected to the Oval Office. In the same year in September, Obama hosted a lunch with the 26 African Heads of the State at the United Nations General Assembly. This was followed by a meeting with President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Khama of Botswana and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai of Zimbabwe.

Laying greater emphasis on trade and investment, the Obama administration had launched three major initiatives as part of its foreign policy towards Africa. The most significant achievement was “Power Africa,” a $7 billion program that focussed to develop Africa’s energy sector by providing technical and financial assistance. The second important program was “Trade Africa”, which was intended at bolstering intra-regional and global trade, by expanding trade agreements, reducing barriers and encouraging competitiveness among many of Africa’s leading economies.

The cornerstone of US-Africa trade, however, was the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides duty-free status for certain African imports. From what we have seen through the election campaign, “reducing barriers” is definitely not a priority on Trump’s foreign agenda. Thus, free trade may become a hypothetical concept under the Trump presidency as the businessman turned politician intends to impose high US tariff barriers on the products crossing the country’s border.

Another program called “The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), considered as Obama’s prized initiative in Africa, was launched to develop leadership skills of young Africans through exchanges in the US. However, the key that lets students from across the world to reside and study in America through their program, the ‘J-1 visa’, is likely to be discarded under the Trump administration as he wants to regulate the “exchange market” of students. Trump has always asserted that the American citizens will be his priority, especially when it comes to employment and has already warned US companies of “serious consequences” for outsourcing jobs overseas. On May 3, 2016, during an election campaign rally in Wichita, Kansas, Trump had even accused Nigerians and Mexicans of “robbing the jobs meant for hardworking Americans”. His stern take on sealing the jobs casts a gloomy shadow for Africans residing in America.


“We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?” was the question posed by the Trump team, referring to the terrorist group in Somalia that was responsible for the Westgate mall attacks in Kenya in 2013. The Trump team has bluntly questioned the efficacy of US efforts during the military’s on-off presence in Somalia and has asked why the US was “even bothering to fight the Boko Haram insurgency in Africa and why all the schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram have not been rescued.”

Until now, the US military engagement in Africa has mainly focussed on counterterrorism and antipiracy. Between 2008 and 2015, the sub-Saharan Africa received about $4 billion in military aid where Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and South Sudan were among the largest recipients of this aid. Considering the viewpoint of Trump’s team, one can expect significant changes in the US policy towards Africa with regard to terrorism.

Climate Change

For Donald Trump, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” This lack of concern towards climate change indicates that global warming will be left behind in the policy agenda under the Trump administration which can be detrimental for Africa in the long run; already suffering the consequences of global warming. South Africa, for instance, witnessed a drought in 2016 that was worst in a decade.

A new leaf?

Many speculate that Trump would be indifferent to the domestic issues and politics of African countries. Thus, the choice of Ambassadors to the US by the African countries will play a crucial role in putting Africa in the map of the Trump world. The overall sentiment is that the Trump administration will not view Africa as a foreign policy priority. From a Presidential hopeful to President – elect to becoming the President of the United States, it would be interesting to see if Trump will turn a new leaf towards the African foreign policy.

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